Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bohnanza, the Bean Farming Game

For many of us the exciting and glamorous world of bean farming is an unattainable dream. But now, thanks to the card game Bohnanza, we can all experience what it is like to grow, harvest, and sell crops of beans! Thrilling, I know. Despite the mundane and odd nature of the subject matter, Bohnanza is actually a very fun game. It¹s simple to learn, but like all good games has enough strategy to make it worth playing. It also works great with larger amounts of players. The game is for 2-7 players and should take about forty five minutes to an hour for a game. The goal is to be the wealthiest farmer at the end of the game.

The game could not have simpler components. It is just a deck of bean cards. That¹s it. The cards are a bit too slick and thin for my liking, which makes them sort of hard to shuffle. They have a tendency to slip out of one¹s hands when mixing them up. Not a huge problem. There are many varieties of beans available to the ambitious farmer; red, chili, coffee, wax, really just about any bean you could think of. The art has a lot of personality, but it¹s not all that great. The beans are all portrayed in this anthropomorphic way that shows them embodying the characteristics of the bean. The coffee bean is totally amped up and hyper, while the wax bean is slipping on a shiny floor. The green bean? He¹s on the verge of vomiting, grasping a lamp post for support with a flask at his feet. The beans are all worth different amounts based on their scarcity. For example the relatively common blue bean is worth two gold for a group of six. However, the elusive cocoa bean brings in the tidy sum of three gold for three beans. The value of the beans also scales upward as the size of the harvest increases, which is a good incentive to hang onto a bean field rather than sell them the first chance that you get.

Players are each dealt five bean cards to start the game. The remaining cards form the draw deck. The rules state that the oldest player is responsible for shuffling all the cards, which I think is pretty funny. Each turn consists of several very easy steps. The active player must plant the first card in their hand into a bean field by placing it face up on the table. At the start of the game a player has two bean fields available to them for planting (at any time a third bean field can be purchased for three gold). Additionally the player may plant the next card in their hand, but they do not have to. Beans can also be planted onto the field of a similar bean, creating stacks that are worth more money. This is not a new bean field. The next phase of the turn is essentially an auction. The player draws two cards from the draw deck and places them face up on the table. They may do whatever they like with these cards; keep them, trade them to the other players for other beans, or donate them to another player. Any cards received by any player in this phase do not go into the players hand, but rather are placed to the side and must be planted in the next phase of the turn. Therefore any cards obtained in this manner must go right into a bean field. It’s a great way to screw up someone’s field by donating a card to them that they must plant. In the final phase of the turn the player draws three more cards and places them at the back of their hand. Next player goes.

Beans can be harvested and sold at any time, though a single bean is never worth anything. Only groups of beans gets the player any gold. The back of all the bean cards has a gold symbol which counts as one gold piece, when a field is harvested the appropriate number of cards are flipped over and go into the players bank, the remainders are placed into the discard pile. When the draw pile is exhausted all cards in the discard are reshuffled (by the oldest player!) and the draw starts over. Each time the pile gets smaller due to cards in play and cards that are now being used as gold. This happens three times and then the game ends. The player with the most gold can then hold their head up high, assured with the knowledge that they are a champion bean farmer.

One of the unique aspects of Bohnanza and what gives it, in my opinion, an interesting mechanic is the way that a player must manage their hand in order to be successful. Players are restricted in that they can only play their cards in the order that they are in their hand. Cards can¹t be rearranged, when a card is drawn it goes to the back of the hand and all cards are played in sequence. What it does is force the player to find ways to get to the cards that they want, often at the expense of helping another player by giving them a bean that they need (in the auction phase) in order to move up a bean in your hand. Makes sense? You may already have a field of green beans in play, plus two more green beans in the middle of your hand. Unfortunately there are several cards between you and those precious green beans. During the auction phase you may offer the cards that are next in the sequence to another player in order to bump up the green beans in your hand to the front of the line. Plant them and, if you like, sell them at the next opportunity.

Bohnanza is not a super intense strategy game that takes numerous plays to really grasp the concept and tactics. But rather it is a light hearted, fast and enjoyable game appropriate for any group. The bottom line is that it is a lot of fun, more so that a lot of other games that try much harder.


Anonymous said...

Just played this for the first time this weekend and, yup, completely agreed - it is extremely fun, substantially moreso than the rules/description of play might imply. Everyone loved it, and we ended up playing three rounds, rather than moving on to another game which is our normal routine. I highly recommend this game if you're looking for, as you say, a light-hearted, minimally strategic game to play with a group of friends.

Kevin Worth said...

You can not donate a card to someone that doesn't want it, it's essentially a 1 for 0 trade offer that the other player can accept or decline. So there's is no way to mess with someone by donation.